Cost of fouling in full-scale reverse osmosis and nanofiltration installations in the Netherlands

M. Jafari, M. Vanoppen, J. M.C. van Agtmaal, E. R. Cornelissen, Johannes S. Vrouwenvelder, A. Verliefde, M. C.M. van Loosdrecht, C. Picioreanu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


The economic impact of fouling in spiral wound membranes is not yet well explored. There has been an established assumption that the cost of fouling in membrane processes is significant, but this hypothesis has not been thoroughly evaluated. We conducted an economic analysis on seven full-scale installations, four nanofiltration (NF) and three reverse osmosis (RO), to estimate the cost of fouling in industrial plants. The cost of fouling was calculated in detail, including costs of increase in feed channel pressure drop, water permeability reduction, early membrane replacement, and extensive cleaning-in-place (CIP). The estimated cost of fouling was expressed as a fraction of operational expenses (OPEX) for each plant and the major cost factors in fouling and CIP costs were identified. The selected NF plants were fed with anoxic ground water, while the feed water to RO plants was either surface water or municipal wastewater effluent. All the NF plants produce drinking water, while the RO plants produce demineralized water for industrial applications. We found that the cost of fouling in the RO plants was around 24% of OPEX, while the fouling related costs in NF cases was only around 11% due to the low biofouling potential of the anoxic ground water. The major factor in the cost of fouling is the early membrane replacement cost, followed by additional energy and with only a minor contribution from the cleaning costs. The down-time cost (caused by the interruption of water production during a CIP event) can be the major CIP cost factor for the plants with frequent cleaning events, while the cost of chemicals dominates in the plants with non-frequent CIP. In case of manual cleaning-in-place, the cost of fouling is increased by around 2% for the RO plants with frequent CIP. The manual execution of CIP cleaning is an attention point to reconsider, as the reviewed plants hold an automated CIP cleaning, providing membrane productivity advantages.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114865
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-12-28
Acknowledgements: This study was funded by European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 676070. The authors gratefully acknowledge Martin Pot (Evides Industriewater B.V. The Netherlands) and Sandie Chauveau (Global Water & Energy Group, Belgium) for the fruitful discussion during concept development phase of this study. This communication reflects only the authors' view and the Research Executive Agency of the EU is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.


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